Health Care Workers Council talks organizing, technology at annual meeting

The union’s Health Care Workers Council strategized for the future of the union and the evolving industry in Pittsburgh last December, leaving the city with several action plans moving forward.

Over the group’s two-day session, the activists reported on their districts’ work, including pushing legislators to pass the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act. The bill passed the House late last year, thanks in large part to the council’s work with the Rapid Response program collecting more than 80,000 postcards in support of the legislation, which now faces an uphill battle in the U.S. Senate.

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The diverse council of heath care members also talked about the coming of automation and the impact it is already having on the industry. District 12 Health Care Council Coordinator Alma Garzon spoke on her experience attending Unite the Union’s health care conference last fall that focused on automation and technology.

“Technology absolutely is a great tool to use,” said Garzon, “but it should not replace bodies and real workers.”

Another challenge facing the health care industry the members touched on was short-staffing. But activists like Kim Smith, a health care staff representative in District 9, believe there is more opportunity than opposition when it comes to fixing this and many other problems.

“The health care sector right now is primed for organizing,” said Smith.

USW Vice President Fred Redmond, who oversees the council, addressed the group and also agreed that there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future. He said the work of the council is indicative of the recent changes in the union toward expanding its organizing efforts and diversifying an already diverse membership.

“This is a growth sector,” said Redmond. “And how we grow this council and get engaged is going to be crucial in strengthening our ability to represent health care workers. Our union is on the move.”

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